Brexit-backing Wetherspoon pubs boss Tim Martin has added his name to the list of those wanting to relax work visa rules for EU migrants.
Martin, who toured the country’s Wetherspoons pubs espousing the benefits of a hard Brexit, says that the UK should make it easier for lower-skilled EU workers to relocate here.
His comments came as rival pub and restaurant bosses told the Telegraph that recruitment in the industry was so poor that many sites are having to close to lunchtime trade.
Martin said: “The UK has a low birth rate. A reasonably liberal immigration system controlled by those we have elected, as distinct from the EU system, would be a plus for the economy and the country.
“America, Australia and Singapore have benefitted for many decades from this approach. Immigration combined with democracy works.”
Industry trade body UKHospitality has estimated that there is a shortfall of about 188,000 workers, blaming the exodus on successive lockdowns imposed by the Government.
This afternoon Martin said his pubs are not the ones facing a recruitment issue and said today’s Telegraph story “expressed or implied elsewhere in the article, was that Wetherspoon was suffering staff shortages, which clearly isn’t true, and that I had subsequently been moved to change my stance on immigration, which, as my evidence to the parliament clearly shows, isn’t true either.”
In the run-up to the EU referendum in 2016, Martin advocated for the benefits of voting Leave, but also said he wanted to keep Freedom of Movement with the EU, while also – somewhat paradoxically – supporting a points-based immigration system “more like Australia, America, Singapore and New Zealand”
EU nationals living in the UK could apply for settled status at no cost, giving them the right to live and work here indefinitely, however the Covid-19 pandemic has also meant a relocation of thousands of citizens back to their home countries.
The bosses of City Pub Group and TGI Fridays told the Telegraph that an inability to fill roles had made reopening harder for pubs and restaurants.
Clive Watson, executive chairman of the City Pub Group, said some sites weren’t able to open for lunchtime trade and the recruitment situation was “another kick in the wotsits”.
Around 25,000 venues across Britain are still shut, according to new hospitality data from CGA and AlixPartners.
It comes as the industry also called on the government to stick to its 21 June reopening timetable or see more hospitlity companies go to the wall.
“A delay would push many businesses closer to the cliff edge of failure, meaning more job losses,” said Kate Nicholls of UKHospitality.
The news follows a push from the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group (APPBG), which is made up 16 MPs from various parties, has urged the government to consider lowering duty, VAT or business rates for pubs and breweries, including looking at lowering duty on draught beers, which are exclusively available in licensed premises.
The Treasury is currently reviewing alcohol duty, and the work is expected to be finished during the summer.
Mike Wood, APPBG chair and Conservative MP for Dudley South, said halving the duty on draught beers – a cut of 22p on an average strength pint – would be a £600m shot in the arm to help save pubs and breweries.
It’s not the first time the Wetherspoons boss has raised eyebrows. At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic Martin told 40,000 staff at his company’s 814 pubs in a video that they should feel free to take jobs at supermarkets such as Tesco while Wetherspoon pubs remain closed.
He said: “If you’re offered a job… if you think it’s a good idea, do it.”
Martin was also a lockdown sceptic, saying the move by the UK Government in March last year would “cripple the economy”, destroy the tax base and subsequently hurt the NHS.